A knowing portrait of a Maine town

This old view of the small coastal town of Blue Hill, Maine, was not the work of some itinerant topographical landscapist. It was painted with knowing accuracy by a man who, from 1796, lived there for half a century. He knew every inch of it, and every inhabitant of every house.

Jonathan Fisher was the dutifully zealous Congregational minister of Bluehill (as it was then spelled). His church and home are both included in this visual record. The church spire is visible against the horizon; his light-colored parsonage (today a museum in his honor) is on the other side of the road, a little farther away.

Fisher was a man of vigorous mind. Before taking up his provincial career as Bluehill's first clergyman, he had been a Harvard man. He was fascinated by languages, mathematics, natural history. His fearsomely rigorous approach to the saving of souls was tempered by a tenderness toward living things.

He was also a man of vigorous fingers. His pursuits included architecture, furnituremaking, wood engraving, surveying, clockmaking, painting, and inventing. Of necessity, he was also a farmer.

Fisher had been fond of painting from an early age, with an eye for the beauty and unusual formation of flowers, animals, birds, and other natural phenomena.

But his only "training" was in mechanical drawing, as a student.

Many of his prints and watercolors were copies of other artists' work. Some were directly from nature.

Success or failure was evidently less important to him than simply working. He was scrupulous and unpretentious. His diaries record a mixture of self-effacement about and self-satisfaction with his work. His was a modest egotism. He was, in the best sense, an unashamed and completely sincere amateur.

"A Morning View of Bluehill Village," signed and dated (above), is wonderfully in tune with its period and place. It seems an idyllic community of simple living. In the foreground, two women and a horse have time to stand and stare. But the other foreground figure is a man killing a snake. It can be read as a symbol of Fisher's own fight, in his community, with evil.

The land itself is tamed, fenced, and farmed, the forest retreating in the face of man's admirable industry. Its timber is used for Bluehill's houses and its ship building. The village's connection with the ocean is quietly hinted at by a glimpse, in the lower left, of the Little Bay, with one sailing ship arriving.

But where is the "blue hill" after which the place is named? The answer is that the clergyman-artist was standing on it as he looked, with dispassionate affection, at his hometown.

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